Bush to seek more aid for Afghanistan

Posted in Broader Middle East , United States | 26-Jan-07 | Author: Helene Cooper and David S. Clo| Source: International Herald Tribune

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waves as she arrives at the extraordinary NATO foreign ministers meeting Friday at NATO's headquarters in Brussels.

BRUSSELS: President Geroge W. Bush plans to ask Congress for $10.6 billion in aid for Afghanistan, primarily to beef up the country's security forces, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.

The aid request would come before what is expected to be another spring offensive by resurgent forces linked to the Taliban, the former rulers of Afghanistan. In Washington, the Pentagon announced Thursday that it was delaying the departure of a 3,200-soldier combat brigade from Afghanistan for as long as three months, increasing the American force level there to around 24,000. An additional 20,000 soldiers from other NATO countries are also deployed there.

The aid request would include $8.6 billion for training and equipping Afghan security forces and would go toward increasing the size of Afghanistan's national army by 70,000 and its local police forces by 82,000, said a senior American official familiar with the issue.

An additional $2 billion would go to reconstruction projects like building roads, laying down electric power lines, development in rural areas, and counternarcotics efforts, administration officials said. The officials said that they planned to use some of the money to help Afghanistan and Pakistan battle the Taliban and other insurgents along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

President Bush is expected to make a formal request for the funds next month, after a year in which Taliban forces have carried out fierce attacks across the country, particularly in the south.

"The challenges of the last several months have demonstrated that we want to and we should redouble our efforts," Rice told reporters aboard her flight to Brussels for a NATO meeting on Afghanistan, coming from a donors' conference for Lebanon that was held in Paris.

President Bush announced two weeks ago that he was sending more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq, where the United States already has about 132,000 troops.

The troops to remain longer in Afghanistan, from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, provide commanders with more forces before an expected spring offensive by the Taliban. The unit was supposed to return to the United States next month. But commanders asked Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for additional forces when he visited Kabul last week and he said at the time that he was inclined to support the request.

In a statement, the Army said the additional forces were necessary to "deny the Taliban a base of operations."

Because another battalion is scheduled to leave Afghanistan shortly, the actual increase in American troop numbers as a result of holding over the 3,500-member brigade will be about 2,500 troops, said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

The increase comes at the same time that the Bush administration is renewing pressure on European allies to increase their troops in Afghanistan and is aimed at quelling European concerns that the United States may soon draw down in Afghanistan to meet its growing troop commitments in Iraq. British, Canadian and Dutch troops have at times since last summer been in intense combat in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's heartland.

In addition, an American general, Dan K. McNeil, is taking command of the NATO mission in Afghanistan next month, taking over from a British officer.

The NATO-led force remains about 15 percent short of the troop and equipment levels pledged by its contributing nations, a point that is bound to be of contention during Friday's scheduled NATO meeting in Brussels to discuss Afghanistan.

Gates has been more open to adding troops to Afghanistan than his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, who argued for holding down force levels. Gates has indicated that he favors aggressive action to root out the Taliban and has said repeatedly that Afghanistan cannot be permitted to fall back into chaos.

American officials say that Taliban fighters are mounting increasingly brazen cross-border attacks from Pakistan and are preparing to resume attacks in the spring, as they have done every year since the American invasion, which toppled the Taliban in 2001.

Since 2001, the United States has provided over $14.2 billion in aid to Afghanistan.